Adverb Clauses

An adverb clause is a group of words that function as an adverb in a sentence. Adverb clauses can be used to add explanatory detail to your writing and explain how or why things happen. To identify adverb clauses, you'll need to understand what an adverb does as well as how a clause is formed.


What Is an Adverb?

An adverb is a part of speech that describes an adjective, another adverb or a verb. Adverbs give more information about how an action was performed. In general, they answer questions like, how, why, where and when.

An adverb does this with just one word, but groups of words can also perform this function in sentences. For example:

  • She walked slowly.
  • She walked like an old lady.
  • She walked as if she were heading to the gallows.

In each of these sentences, the italicized word or words answer the question how and describe the verb "walked." In the first sentence there is only one adverb, but in the other two sentences, a group of words work together to act as an adverb.

What Is a Clause?

A clause is a group of words that contain both a subject and a verb. This differs from a phrase, which doesn’t have a subject and a verb. For example, let's revisit our examples of words being used together as adverbs:

  • She walked like an old lady.
  • She walked as if she were heading to the gallows.

In these examples, "like an old lady" does not contain a subject and a verb, and is, therefore, an adverb phrase. However, "as if she were heading to the gallows" does contain a subject (she) and a verb (were heading), making it an adverb clause.

Clauses can be either independent or dependent. Independent clauses are also called sentences. They can stand alone and express a complete thought. Dependent clauses, or subordinate clauses, cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. For example:

  • Because he has a college degree, he got a great job.
  • When the storm started, she was at the store.
  • Bob wore the coat that I gave him.

Each of these groups of words has a subject and a verb, but do not form a complete sentence on their own. They are dependent on an independent clause for meaning.

What Is an Adverb Clause?

Adverb clauses, also known as adverbial clauses, are dependent clauses that function as adverbs. Since they are dependent clauses, they must have a subordinating conjunction to connect them to the rest of the sentence.

Being able to spot a subordinating conjunction will help you recognize an adverb clause. Below are some examples, which are grouped by what type of adverb question they answer:

  • When: after, when, until, soon, before, once, while, as soon as, whenever, by the time
  • How: if, whether or not, provided, in case, unless, even if, in the event
  • Why: because, as, since, so, in order that, now that, inasmuch as
  • Where: wherever, where

Adverb clauses can be placed at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence. When placed at the beginning or in the middle, they require a comma to offset them from the rest of the sentence:

  • Whether you like it or not, you have to go.
  • The boy, although he is very bright, failed math.

However, when the adverb clause is at the end of a sentence, no comma is needed:

  • She enjoyed the party more than he did.

Examples of Adverb Clauses

Because they act like adverbs in a sentence, adverb clauses answer the questions where, when, why and how in a sentence. To see how they work, take a look at the examples below:

Adverb Clauses of Place:

These adverbial clauses answer the question where.

  • Wherever there is music, people will dance.
  • You can drop by for a visit where we’re staying for the summer.

Adverb Clauses of Time:

These adverbial clauses answer the question when.

  • After the chores are done, we will eat some ice cream.
  • When the clock strikes midnight, she has to leave.

Adverb Clauses of Cause:

These adverb clauses answer the question why.

  • She passed the course because she worked hard.
  • Since he has long hair, he wears a ponytail.

Adverb Clauses of Purpose:

These adverb clauses also answer the question why.

  • So that he would not ruin the carpet, he took off his shoes.
  • He ate vegetables in order that he could stay healthy.

Adverb Clauses of Condition:

These adverb clauses answer the question how.

  • If you save some money, you can buy a new game.
  • Unless you hurry, you will be late for school.

Adverb Clauses of Concession:

These adverb clauses answer the question how, albeit in a roundabout way.

  • Even though you are 13, you can’t go to that movie.
  • Although you gave it your best effort, you did not win the match.

Adverb Clauses Add Rich Detail

While adverb clauses are a little more complicated than simple adverbs, they are very useful in adding richer detail to your writing by explaining how and why things happen. When you begin to add subordinating conjunctions and dependent clauses to your writing, you add interest by varying the rhythm of your sentences and layering in important information to create a complete picture for the reader.

For more practice, you can see Examples of Adverb Clauses to get a sense of the many ways these descriptors can be used to improve your writing.